Seek First the Kingdom – in Politics

Senator Gary Eyker‘s willingness to take time out of his busy schedule to contribute tbis article for THE OUTLOOK‘S series on Seek First the Kingdom is greatly appreciated. Representing the Twenty-third District in the Michigan Senate, he serves as Vice-Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and as Chairman of Subcommittee on: School Aid, Department of Education, and Department of Commerce.

A veteran of World War II, Senator Byker served four and a half years in the military, was wounded three times, holds the Purple Heart with two clusters, and was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry.

Senator Byker and his family are members of the Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan, where he has served as deacon, elder, and as Vice President of the Consistory. In 1967 he was a delegate to the CRC Synod.

In Genesis 1:1, we learn that the Lord God is Creator of heaven and earth, while Proverbs 16:4, informs us that “the Lord has made all things for Himself.” Romans 13 teaches that God has delegated to government officials the responsibility of maintaining law and order in society. Romans 13:4 states in part, “For he [the politician] is the minister of God to thee . . . he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

The government umbrella – Today, government is undoubtedly the most powerful institution on earth when it comes to regulating the affairs of men. Government hangs like an umbrella over all of us. Its regulatory tentacles permeate some of the most minute aspects of our lives, particularly in the area of state compulsory education for our children and virtually every aspect of economics. Even the church‘s right to exist corporately is granted and preserved by government. The governments of Russia and China have, in essence, abolished the church institute.

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus proclaims, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” Christians have the privilege of being ambassadors of Christ in many roles and one of those is to serve in the institution of government established by God.

No option to cop out – Regrettably, dynamicallycommitted, born-again Christians have far too long shunned the political arena and thereby dcprived governmental operations of the leavening influence Christians could have provided. There are perhaps several reasons for this. Christ and the ministry of the Apostles (with the exception of Paul’s) seemed to be somewhat oblivious to government, particularly when it came to personal involvement in the governmental structure of early New Testament times.

Another contributing factor was elaborated on by Luther when he observed in his essay, “Secular Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,”—“Christians are few and far between as the saying is. Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, nay even over one land or company of people, since the wicked always outnumber the good.” Hence, many Christians reason that, since the wicked are going to have the majority vote anyway, for a Christian to expend time and energy in such a system is an exercise in futility.

I do not believe that Christians have the option to cop out of the governmental processes ordained by God. It should always be remembered that God only holds us responsible for our efforts and not for results. To apply the precepts of the Gospel in the public sector of our national life is extremely important because there are very few, if any, areas left where the influence of anyone of our levels of government is not felt.

Daily we come into contact with numerous instances of government involvement, whether we buy an automobile and pay the necessary taxes, or go to church and see the exit signs required by law. There is no way we can escape government with its widespread tentacles reaching into every nook and cranny of our daily existence. Neither can we escape the Lordship of Jesus with His claims upon all of our activities. Taking Christ’s Lordship seriously implies that we must assert His claims most emphatically in the political realm of our lives.

A corrupt tyranny – If numerous Christians had been more dedicated to seeking the Kingdom of God in politics, the foundation for the development of a floundering society, such as ours now is, perhaps never would have been laid in the early 1960’s. Sometimes it appears that the fabric of our Republic is crumbling. Some are suggesting, for the first time, that our country is ripe for a dictatorship. Our leaders have been paying lip service to God and a few government officials have referred to Christ as an example we should follow, but very few realize that they must ultimately answer to God for their performance. Today it is no longer what is right that counts, but what the majority wants. Hopefully, we have learned by now that if monarchs can be tyrants, the people can be greater tyrants. This is the corrupt tyranny of the political system in which a Christian must perform today.

Look at education. If you want to know what a society really believes, don’t go to her churches, but to her schools. This is where the humanistic philosophy of modern political life is being developed by the government schools financed with everybody’s tax dollars, including those of the Christian. This is where the child is taught to think about the great issues with which he or she will have to grapple in our everyday world. Children are taught in the government schools to consider these issues in isolation from God—as if God can be ignored and makes no difference. The fabric of education and politics are interminably interwoven in America.

Once a Christian enters the arena of politics to demonstrate that Jesus is Lord of all of life, he will face intense opposition because the nerve centers of humanism and atheism are embodied in our secular political and educational systems. Yet, in spite of all the obstacles confronting any Christian aspiring to political office, he cannot afford the luxury of world flight but must emulate the Apostle Paul who planted and watered while God determined the increase and therewith was content.

Criteria and guidelines – Assuming now that involvement in government is mandatory for Christians, what are some of the criteria and guidelines that govern or have superintending control over a Christian politician’s mode of operation?

Ascertaining what constitutes the one specific responsible Christian response to the miserably worldly shape of the political world can prove to be a very exasperating experience. As one labors in the vineyard of compromise, collusion, even nepotism, he is frequently frustrated by the lack of a Christian consensus of an articulated ethos on such important considerations as capital punishment for premeditated murder, equitable taxation (should there be more or less sales tax, a graduated or flat rate income tax), on compulsory monolithic state education, on abortion, on various criminal penalties, or on welfare.

It is relatively easy to achieve a consensus on generalities. We all readily go on record against vices and in favor of such virtues as honesty, justice, and other Christian moral spiritual values.

The Bible is rather vague on what constitutes the God-preferred social-economic-political system. Specific blueprints for political systems can hardly be gleaned from the Bible. Various writings dealing with Christian programs of public justice excel in non-specificity. Biblically approved social-economic-politic-legal orders are extremely difficult to formulate in theory, let alone implement in practice.

In studiously ambiguous terms, many advocate systems which would ultimately evolve into socialism by proposing the Fabian (gradual, nonrevolutionary) socialistic approach. Very few emphasize the virtues of industry, thrift, incentive, and work.

Harvey Cox re work – Harvey Cox, Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture at Andover Newton Theological School, Massachusetts, author of The Secular City, which achieved the best seller list, urges that our major objective should be to divest society of the puritanical obsession that work is a virtue. In the chapter entitled, “Work and Play in the Secular City” (pp. 182–191, paperback edition) with the subtitle, “The Emancipation of Work from Religion,” Cox advocates that work be secularized and that one of the reasons society has difficulty achieving that objective is “because the religious aftertaste still flavors our attitudes toward work, the transition into technopolis is not yet possible. We have already decided as a society not to allow people to starve, but we have not yet decided to take the next step and provide everyone with the basic requirements of human decency and dignity. We have not done this because we carry with us a monkish fanaticism that automatically discriminates against people who are un. willing or unable to ‘find a job’” (p. 186. Emphasis added).

On page 187 Cox’s utopia “would mean that people who wanted to work at marketable jobs would do so and those whose interests and talents are not salable. such as poets and painters, would be able to live without prostituting their gifts. Those who do not wish to do a market-defined job would not have to. No one would be compelled to do a fob in order to share in the growing productivity of the economy” (Emphasis added).

An articulate minority sincerely and stridently urges return to a laissez-faire (non-government interference in economics) system. Quite obviously their suggestions are not being taken seriously by our politicians even though many of their recommendations merit consideration.

Secular commitments – Another major question confronting a Christian in politics is how to avoid adapting Christian principles to a hostile environment dominated by sccular commitments. Humanism, or the sovereignty of man, reigns so supreme in American po!itics that the distinction between the sacred and the secular does not even rate an afterthought. In the American political arena every political or human consideration has been thoroughly secularized. The sacred and the secular have been synthesized into an anti· Christian mold.

Operating in such a contcxt, one is easily tempted to make a spurious application of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians when he said, “Just as I myself please everyone in every way, not seeking my own advantage., but that of the many in order that they may be saved” (II Cor. 10: 33), or of Paul’s seeming or apparent accommodation to expediency when he concluded in Philippians 1:18, “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”

The Christian legislator must operate within a much more constricted framework than the non-Christian legislator. To the non-Christian, “politics is the art of the possible,” with few moral or ethical inhibitions governing tactics. To the Christian. such political pragmatism is ethically reprehensible. How· ever, to my dismay, I have heard committed but undiscerning Christians echo precisely this same axiom. Adding to the burden is the fact that nominal Christians often lend credibility to many causes alien to the cause of Christ. Witness the passage in Michigan of the anti-Christian education Proposal C in 1970, after a vigorous campaign in behalf of its passage by several denominations identified with Christendom.

In the give and take of the American legislative process, the legislator must try to maintain the support of a majority of his constituents. There is no way he can continue to serve in government without that. This is a simple political reality in a world governed by popular sovereignty that Joseph and Daniel did not have to concern themselves with. They did, how. ever, have to satisfy the pagan kings, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, to maintain their official positions in those autocratic forms of government.

Working with colleagues – On the other side of the Christian legislator’s operational framework is the problem of developing a cooperatively working arrangement with his colleagues. If he is to succeed in the enactment of God-and Christhonoring laws, it is indispensable that he acquire support of a majority of his colleagues. This is also a simple political reality because a Christian legislator has only one vote as has an atheistic legislator. This kind of assignment can move to be excruciatingly strenuous when many legislators are governed by no higher principle than political selfpreservation.

Conversely, if a Christian legislator is to defeat God-andChrist-dishonoring legislation, then he must obtain suffiCient votes to prevent the proponents of such measures from attaining success. It is precisely in this process that a Christian legislator will be subjected to an agonizing crunch or pincerplay by some of his colleagues. Retaliation is certain and retribution is swift for successful scuttling of such legislation.

Subsequently, a Christian legislator can expect many negative votes on his bills for no other reason than that he opposed what he believed to be undesirable legislation. Consequently, an earnest desire to enact good legislation and an equally earnest desired to defeat bad legislation can create unresolvable conflicts for the Christian politician.

Ultimately, the only real weapon a legislator has in dealing with his associates is his vote. He may witness eloquently and persuaSively, but usually he finds that such witness falls on deaf ears because all too frequently American politics deal only in power. A major rcason for this fact is the proliferation of political power pressure groups in America. Effects of these groups are vividly dramatized in the performance of the U.S. Congress.

Like a bamboo tree – If any earthly governing body comes close to being almighty, it is the U.S. Congress. It can dismiss the President any time it wishes and for any reason it wishes to. As President Ford observed, “An impeachable offense is what Congress deems it to be.” The Congress can dismiss a Supreme Court Justice similarly and easily. And yet, it performs like a bamboo tree in a tropical storm. The tropical storm being analogous to the political power pressure organizations, the most powerful of which are the labor unions because they have the capacity to deliver the most votes and an enormous amount of financial support. This explains why the U.S. Congress has been controlled by the labor unions for forty out of the past forty-four years.

Most state legislatures are microcosms of the U.S. Congress.

Hence, a Christian legislator is often caught between a rock and a hard spot because of the neces· sity of being productive legislatively for his district and of maintaining a cooperative working rapport with his colleagues in order to be able to legislate successfully.

Such, briefly, is the nature of some of the major aspects of electoratelegislator relationships.

Seek first the Kingdom – At the risk of over· simplification, I have tried to develop an apologetic or rationale for Christian involvement in political affairs, as well as provide an overview of some of the vicissitudes experienced by the Christian involved in the legislative process.

The brevity of this article only allows me to delineate the vague perimeters of an extremely complex process. The generalization, “Seek Ye First The Kingdom – In Politics” is very easy to subscribe to. Implementing the mandate to apply Christian principles to the political arena is another matter. Yet the obstacles enumerated and many others in no way diminish the critical responsibility of Christians to labor in government.

After having made these observations, I am still confronted with the question of how to “Seek . . . First the Kingdom – In Politics.” Does God prefer free enterprise over socialism? Does God demand capital punishment for premeditated murder by responsible persons? I believe we can infer from the genius of Scripture that He does. As a general rule, I think the state should enact laws that foster harmonious relationships between all the interests within its domain. Obviously, then, a Christian‘s first interest would be that the Church of Jesus Christ and Christian education would have the freedom to thrive.

It should also be borne in mind that freedom is pretty much of a piece. And further that economic, political, social, and religious freedoms arc interwoven like a fabric. Consequently, the Christian legislator will strive to promote internal security, external security, and administration of justice in order that all of these freedoms can prosper. He will study diligently to ascertain God‘s will for the particular situations confronting him and on which he must make decisions, many of them irrevocable. Furthermore, he will pray earnestly for sanctified judgment, for a keen sense of discernment and the enlightenment necessary to Seek First the Kingdom of God in Politics.